Be Quiet

You may think that guy upstairs is a bad neighbor. In the Gutter, that thing that you can't stand may be the best thing about him.

Be Quiet by Ben Sixsmith

“Can't you keep it down when I'm trying to sleep?”
The old man who lived upstairs stood on my doormat, glowering. His nose quivered and the hairs inside his nostrils shook.
“Sorry,” I said, “but it's not that loud.”
“Yes it is. I know it is. I'm trying to sleep.”
He looked at me through his big black-rimmed glasses. When he spoke his voice was steady but his face was purpling.
“You're new here, young man, but let me tell you something. We have a nice community. No one bothers anyone. If you don't want trouble then the least you can do is be quiet.”
He stomped off, back up the stairs, and I turned the music down.
The next day Grace came to inspect the new flat. She was unimpressed. It was only big enough for one. Still, we had some pizza, and some beer, and some sex. As the bedsprings groaned, I heard a heavy thumping sound. A slow, steady rhythm, it built up into a frenzy. Grace and I stopped.
“What is that?”
I heard footsteps descending the stairs. Then there was slow, hard knocking at the door.
“Quiet!” I hissed to Grace.
“Can't you keep it down?”
The man's voice was so loud and clear that he could have been next to us.
“Some of us are trying to sleep.”
He paused. I could hear him breathing.
“I won't ask you again.”
“Why didn't you say something?” Grace snapped as he walked up the stairs. “We weren't being loud. You should have told him to fuck off.”
“I've moved twice this year. I don't want to get kicked out.”
For the next week no one would have known I was living there. I crept about the flat as if I was a burglar. At night I went to sleep and listened to the old man plodding around his rooms. I listened to music through my headphones and picked dead bugs from my sheets.
Once I met an old woman as she came home from the shops. She was struggling with two bloated plastic bags. I offered to carry them and she accepted, wittering gratefully as I took them up the stairs.
“No one's ever asked!” she said.
The old man stomped by without even a sideways glance. I noticed the old woman flinch as he passed.
“Do you know him?” I asked.
“Mr Bradley? No. I had problems with him when I had a dog. He said the poor thing was too loud. She really wasn't. I think he has a son. A nice looking boy. At least, I think it was his son. I saw him here last week.”
That night the old man disturbed me, marching up the stairs. Why was it, I asked myself, that I was being silent as he kept me awake? Then there was a bang, and a scratching, and a crunch. I waited for a moment and heard a muffled voice.
That was enough. Fuck this guy. It was time for some revenge. Wrestling on my shirt and trousers, I marched out of the flat and up the cold stone stairs. As I raised my hand to knock I heard a muted groan. Then there was shuffling. Then another groan.
Someone was in pain. Someone was in trouble.
It was natural to open the door. It was less natural that it opened, swinging slowly to reveal the empty hall. I looked in, surprised. Groans were filtering out of a nearby room. They sounded miserable and pathetic.
The groans continued.
They grew louder.
Instinct–morbid, unreflective instinct–gripped me. I approached the door and pushed it open. Inside was a man, sprawled across a bed. He was young. He was thin. His eyes were rolling. There was tape over his mouth and a needle in his neck. Blood was running from a gash above his eyebrow. The room smelled of piss, and sweat, and puke.
I ran forward and pulled at the tape on his mouth. Looking down, I cursed myself and yanked the needle from his neck. His eyes had closed and his skin was pale. Blood was seeping out of the back of his head.
The air seemed to thicken, as if alive with spirits. I could hear the old man breathing behind me.
“Can't you keep it down,” he said, putting a hand on my shoulder. “He's trying to sleep.”

Ben Sixsmith is an English writer living in Poland. His stories and poems have been published by Every Day Fiction, Flash Fiction Magazine, The London Journal of Fiction, Fluland, 101 Words, 365 Tomorrows, Visual Verse at Det Poetiske Bureau. He tweets at @bdsixsmith.